Saturday, July 06, 2019

Elevating Elementary Science Teaching & Learning

This summer I am taking a week-long Wade Institute course to elevate the way I teach science at the elementary school level. I am excited about what the combination of this study, our climate change/environmental education partnership with Drumlin Farm, and the Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain book study will bring to the classroom learning community this year.

For starters, I have to read a number of pedagogy articles related to science education. Below I have noted ways that these articles will influence science teaching in my classroom this year.

Models and Modeling: Representations of a system taking the form of drawings, diagrams, flow charts, equations, graphs, computer simulations, or physical replicas. (Note that this information came from the book, Ambitious Science Teaching)
  • Scientists use models to demonstrate and discuss scientific ideas, concepts, knowledge.
  • Models reflect reasoning, stimulate new ideas, generate predictions, construct explanations, share knowledge, and pose new questions for investigation. 
  • Ultimate aim of science is to explain how and why the natural world works; the science practices of modeling and explanation are key elements of this objective.
  • Modeling are drawings or diagrams that represent one's current understanding of how a specific system behaves.
  • Students will use modeling throughout a unit to revise explanations as their understanding and experience develops. Children make dramatic advances in science understanding by generating and revising explanatory models.
  • Begin with a puzzling phenomenon and ask students to use modeling to explain what is happening? Let students revise their modeling as they study, experiment, debate, and discuss more.
  • Students use of models is best developed via problem solving that builds knowledge via constructing, testing, evaluating, and revising models. 
  • Models represent an event or process; models should be context-rich representing a specific event that happens in a specific place under specific circumstances; pictorial models are meaningful for students; models include both observable and unobservable features; models are revisable.
  • Modeling in the classroom is focused on a phenomenon (event or process) to anchor the unit of study. (What phenomenon will be at the center of our classroom study this year?)
Employ Science Practices (Notes and images  from "Scientific and Engineering Practices in the K-12 Classroom" by Rodger W. Bybee )

  • What is the difference between a question and a problem? What is the difference between science questions and engineering problems? As I think of this practice, I am thinking about fifth graders' study of water, the sun, and plants? I'm wondering if we could ask the question, "How does water behave?" and for engineering, we could ask, "How can we clean water?" We could ask, "How does the sun affect Earth?" and "How can we use the sun's heat and energy to cook food?" Further we can ask, "How do plants grow?" and "How can we most effectively support plant growth?" And with regard to the environment, we might ask, "What is a watershed and how does it work?" and "How can we protect watersheds?"

Careful attention to the science and engineering practices as well as difference between the two, makes me think about the processes best used to deepen students ability to investigate phenomena and solve engineering problems.

As I think of this and read Bybee's article, I am thinking that we can connect our science study and STEAM projects in meaningful ways that promote students' ability to conduct investigations, explore changes in system components, and generate data that can be used to formulate scientific explanations or propose technological solutions. 

I will focus Bybee's information on our study of water including the Massachusetts' science standards and our systemwide identified water filter STEAM project.

We could begin with the overarching question, What do you know about water and how it behaves? Students could be asked to make models that demonstrate their initial understanding. Then students could simply play with water, and develop their models more based on that play. Later we can add more specific, standards-based explorations that help students to better explore and make conclusions about water properties. All the while, we will employ the science practices above and embed the science standards.

We can take a similar approach with each STEAM project and the corresponding phenomena. I will likely revisit Bybee's article again as I develop these units of study to better employ the science practices. 

"Visual Literacy Strategies" Notes by Todd Finley
We know that visual literacy is integral to successful learning and that visual images translate information with greater efficiency than words. These strategies will help students to strengthen visual literacy which is included in standards across disciplines. 
  • Think aloud modeling shows students how to interpret and create visual images. Students can replicate a teacher's think aloud strategy with partners. 
  • Questioning protocols will help build visual literacy: What do you notice?, What do you see that makes you say that?. What more can we find?
  • When viewing five images student may jot down an associated word, identify a related song, describe what the images have in common, and compare answers with classmates. I can imagine students doing the same when visiting a place in nature.
  • Finley offers a number of image worksheets in his article. 
  • Evaluate images literally, metaphorically, and then evaluate/apply those interpretations on your own and together.
"Is the Inquiry Real" by William H. Leonard and John E. Penick
The authors of this article state, "Inquiry learning results in deep understanding of many aspects of science, as opposed to learning through more prescriptive methods." They also note that " . . .you can routinely check to see that your students are actively learning through inquiry by comparing what is occurring in your classroom to the student and teacher actions noted in the beginning of this article. Are students thinking, making decisions, structuring at least some portions of the investigation, collecting and analyzing data, and considering new ways to make the investigation better? If they are, then you and your students are on the road to additional success with science learning and motivation."

In the article they promote a common protocol note below. I've added steps that I'll add for our elementary science/engineering curriculum in blue. 
  1. students make initial observations: what do we notice? students explore the phenomena/problem via individual and collective hands-on exploration, video, research. They note initial observations with pictures, numbers, words (written and oral)
  2. students pose questions: What are we wondering? Students come up with questions on their own and with others. 
  3. formulate predictions or cause-and-effect hypotheses, and possible solutions to test (research questions) and plan procedures to identify relevant variables, produce data, build/make/invent, test. Students determine next steps to learn more--they decide what they can do. Some of this work is guided in the elementary classroom. 
  4. test collect, organize, analyze and display data, craft tentative inferences, evaluate predictions/hypotheses. At fifth grade students are introduced to templates that will guide this part of science/engineering inquiry. 
  5. share ideas, results, inferences, elicit feedback.  Data is displayed, discussed.
  6. revise as needed. Students decide on next steps, complete those steps, share findings/inventions.
  7. reflect, analyze, and reach a consensus. Students summarize what they have done and resulting information, analysis, invention.
It is clear that there are multiple inquiry processes available and as I read, I might improve the list above.

"Simplifying Inquiry Instruction" by Randy L. Bell, Lara Smetana, Ian Binns
While inquiry is clearly the goal of science study, there are multiple levels of inquiry as noted in the chart below found in the article noted above:

"Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'" by Carol Deck
I noted the comments Dweck makes in this article that will impact my classroom teaching.
  • "A growth mindset isn't just about effort"
  • Growth mindset is about helping students "thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning."
  • Growth mindset is not about feeling good, but instead about effective learning and coaching.
  • We must find reasons why some children are not learning and unlock those obstructions.
  • It's important to continually assess our abilities as educators to have a growth mindset and coach a growth mindset. The illustration below provides a good example. 
"Let's Invent" by Anthony Perry and Leigh Estabrooks
The authors tell us that invention represents authentic, creative, and unique solutions. This reminds me of the fact that since I started teaching STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, and math) to students, I have become a much better problem solver and inventor. I now know that I have to identify the problem, think about the solution, and look around for the materials I need to solve the problem and/or invent the solution. The authors further state, "Inventing provides a means to address the entineering design performance expectations. . .in a way that is engaging and meaningful to students.. . .As students master these activities and progress, their authentic inquiry practices will help them become scientific and technological changemakers in their own communities." 

The resources in this article are very helpful. I want to think more about how I teach and promote visual literacy in the classroom.

The articles noted above have definitely challenged my science and math teaching in positive ways--ways that will help me to teach with greater depth, meaning, and success. The next step is to deeply employ these protocols into the curriculum.